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Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  965 ratings  ·  40 reviews
This book tells the remarkable story of Robert F. Williams--one of the most influential black activists of the generation that toppled Jim Crow and forever altered the arc of American history. In the late 1950s, as president of the Monroe, North Carolina, branch of the NAACP, Williams and his followers used machine guns, dynamite, and Molotov cocktails to confront Klan ter ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published February 5th 2001 by University of North Carolina Press (first published 1999)
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Craig Werner
Crucial book for anyone who wants to read past the convenient and reassuring myths of the Civil Rights Movement as a moment of interracial friendship and non-violence. Nice story. Unfortunately, as Tyson makes clear, it doesn't have a whole lot to do with reality. Shifting the camera from Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks (and, for that matter, Malcolm X), Tyson illuminates the story of Robert F. Williams, one of the very few working class individuals to lead a chapter of the NAACP (in Monroe, Nort ...more
Sandra Ross
Oct 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The more I read about North Carolina's extremely racist history, the more shocked I am (I grew up in North Carolina), the more appalled I am, and the more the burn of injustice and just plain moral wrong wells up inside me.

On the other hand, my appreciation for my parents grows more profound and deep (my dad was a North Carolina native, who was born and raised in Burlington, while my mom grew up in Greenville, SC) because they taught me, and modeled without exception as an example for me, to tre
Jul 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in postwar black liberation.
No longer using this website, but I'm leaving up old reviews. Fuck Jeff Bezos. Find me on LibraryThing:

This book is an fantastic read about a particularly amazing person, and the horrific circumstances of the Jim Crow South. It takes as its thesis that the traits of the Black Power movement in the 70s existed indigenously within the black freedom struggle throughout the 50s and 60s, despite the popular narrative of Civil Rights history. The thesis is fram
Jul 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing

‘I told them that I was black, and that prison did not scare me because black men are born in prison. All they could do was put me in a smaller prison.’

‘Nonviolence is a very potent weapon when the opponent is civilized’ Williams stated, ‘but nonviolence is no repellent for a sadist’

Robert F. Williams today is a little remembered man outside of select circles and those with an interest in the racial upheavals of the 1950’s and 60’s. It is a shame because Williams was an exceedingly brave, int
Mar 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
An impressively ambitious, often successful look at the man who offered immense inspiration to the black nationalist and black power movements of the late 1960s. Tyson goes well beyond straightforward biography to look at the roles of class and gender in Williams' quest for respect and equality, and effectively, convincingly makes a case for the deep roots of the beliefs that would eventually become known as "black power."

While I would have liked a clearly chronology at times and more details a
Leroy Walker
Oct 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Probably of my favorite books for more reasons than I feel like going into. I read this book for an undergrad class. It's one of the few books I didn't sale once the class was over. A great read for history buffs or those interested in African American History. ...more
Jan 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I'm not necessarily saying this book was the truth because one of my former professors at UW-Madison wrote it. I'm saying it, because it is. Robert F. Williams said eff your state-sanctioned violence, and if you come around my way with it, I'm blasting you. ...more
Oct 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Hunter Gray:
“About a year later, I was -- as I had been for some many, many months directing a major, intensive and increasingly successful civil rights, voter registration, and anti-Klan campaign in the extremely racist, rigidly-segregated, poverty-stricken, Klan-infested multi-county Northeastern North Carolina Blackbelt. This region, although predominately Black , also had a substantial and equally victimized Native American population.”

(From "Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams & the Roots
Jan 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
great biography of a truly impressive man, but more than that an illuminating history on the civil rights era in the South. the politics of the cold war and gender and sexuality are topics that if you asked me before i'd say, well yes of course they were important in shaping the history of black struggle in america, but really this book broke it down for me.

everyone knows about Emmet Till and more generally that in the south the most benign interaction between a black man and white woman could
Mar 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was an amazing book that captures the struggle of the people of Monroe, along with many others across the South, against state sanctioned racist terrorism and deadly violence. Robert Williams, as the leader of the Monroe NAACP, sought to defend his community by working with everyone to arm themselves and respond to KKK and racist marauders with gunfire when necessary. Advocating for self-defense or "armed self-reliance" was somewhat of a departure from the NAACP's main line and the growing ...more
Heather Burmeister
Jul 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
Tyson really spends time on Robert's early life, setting the stage for what became his political philosophy. There are interesting connections between Williams and Sen. Jesse Helms and Jesse's father, Jesse Helms Sr., which made Jesse Helms make more sense to me. I had really only thought of Jesse Helms in terms of "that racist homophobic bigot who rallied against the NEA in the 1980s and 1990s", and Tyson puts him in context. I was disappointed that not much was spent on the details of Robert's ...more
Dec 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book was incredible because it tells the story of a much un-written about black revolutionary who was far beyond his time in terms of his global and political outlook. Robert Williams was an outstanding human being who challenged everything that wasn't just in his world and never compromised -- which in my opinion was a great achievement. It's not a surprise that we don't learn about Robert Williams along side Martin Luther King and Malcolm X when we learn about Civil Rights -- we also don' ...more
Beth Bee
Jun 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Tyson writes as lyrically as a poet, and his combination of lyrical writing and a comprehensive description of the rise of Black Power and why many African Americans rejected Rev. Dr. King's non-violent direct action is well worth reading.

Reading this helped me to understand by proxy the romanticization and castration of the African American Freedom Movement-- including Dr. King (see "Why We Can't Wait")-- by mainstream media, culture and pop history. Instead of understanding civil rights from
Ben Moody
Oct 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
The biography of Robert F. Williams, one of the largely forgotten leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and arguably the precurser of the 'Black Power' movement. A lifetime 'agitator,' the book describes Williams as a man who didn't take shit from anyone (he had caught the attention of the FBI by the time he was 16) and constantly struggled for justice and equality. He often clased with other Civil Rights leaders, such as King and Wilkins, over his position of self defense and 'armed self-relianc ...more
Aug 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
there is no way to explore the "black power movement" in the 60's without looking at the "civil rights" movement of the decade before. People lauded as heroes, such as King, take on new meaning when posed next to the fiery self defense of southern black communities.

This book was not just a look at Williams, who in my thoughts was touted as a leader far too often, but it was also about the vast personal and political networks built in the 50's leading up the explosive acts of the 60's and beyond
Sep 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A really superb work of African American civil rights history, one that doesn't pull punches or in any way gloss over the brutal, violent reality of racism in the American South or the courage and dedication of outstanding men and women like Robert Williams who risked death in their struggles to be treated as free and equal Americans. Deserves all the awards it has won, and more besides. (And as the author suggests, someone really needs to write a history of Robert Williams during his travels in ...more
Kathryn Bundy
Jan 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I have the advantage of taking a class with Tim Tyson, so I've been able to hear the stories behind the story. The book, originally a doctoral dissertation, can be slow reading, but is well worth the effort. It fundamentally changed how I thought about the "Civil Rights Era" ---- put it in a much larger context and erased the pretty, pink coating that mythology has given it over the years. Read this book for a more nuanced, realistic historical perspective of the lengthy, often violent struggle ...more
Apr 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Great history of Robert F. Williams, a little known civil right activists, who believed in a man's right to defend his home and family with guns. This was a series of books I read about Williams, John Ray Shute (Unitarian and man of the century in Monroe County, NC). The Heretic Mayor is not longer in print. It is Shute's account of the community reaction to his becoming a Unitarian in the 1949. Shute was a national leader in Fellowship Program. He built a Unitarian Chapel, Children's Chapel, Me ...more
Jun 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is a very engrossing book on the history of the Black Power movement in the United States. I really couldn't put this book down. Unlike other history books I have struggled with, this book was well-written as though we were following a narrative. The book follows Robert Williams in the early fifties in the segregated South. He stands up to racist neighbors and politicians in order to protect himself and the African-American community of his small southern town. Seriously, really good. ...more
Jun 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
I had never heard of Robert Williams before this. He was a violent NAACP leader (he later broke with the NAACP) in the South. In class it seemed like a clear delineation: first half of the movement was mass action, nonviolent, and southern, the second half of the movement was black pride, violent, and northern. But this proves that Southern Blacks were just as angry and violent at times as Northern Blacks. Another fascinating book for my Civil Rights class.
Selina R Gonzalez
Feb 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Although occasionally it dragged, and despite occasional confusion due to chronological jumping back and forth as Tyson chased down a theme or specific issue in Williams' life or the period, a very readable biography. Very enlightening and insightful, and Tyson makes an excellent argument about Black Power being rooted in the same societal and cultural pressures that birthed the civil rights movement. ...more
Jun 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
An excellent look at the militant, and oft ignored, side of the Civil Rights Movement. Shows how Williams and his followers led an alternate to the main Civil Rights Movement and resisted the KKK and other hate groups with rifles in hand. By some of those actions, they no doubt prevented some lynchings, saved some lives and helped further the struggle for equality "behind the scenes" so to speak. ...more
Joseph Carley
Oct 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Exhaustively researched and fast-paced. Tyson is a masterful civil rights historian. In Williams, he has a larger-than-life character, whose story sheds light on the less well-known, militant wing of the civil rights struggle, and the roots of black power. A native North Carolinian, Tyson's character development is excellent, and the book sizzles with the tense energy of the time. ...more
Oct 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
There's a lot of depth about the Williams Family before Robert was born, a striking portrait of the south in reconstruction times, as well as totally powerful life story. In the intro, Rosa Parks is quoted as being so happy to be at his funeral, the funeral of a strong black leader who died in his bed of old age. ...more
Clea M
Oct 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Slow in parts, but overall very compelling, and I ripped through the last half. It illustrated aspects of the civil rights movement that I haven't heard talked about anywhere else, and profiled an important activist whose unique approach didn't fit the mold of his historical moment. I'm actually looking forward to writing a paper about Williams now. ...more
Aug 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Everyone should read this book. If you do not know who Robert F. Williams is, your history teachers have utterly failed you. This book is awesomely important and should be at the very least be required reading for all students.
Katie DeBruin
Jan 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Fantastic book! And its written by the guy who convinced me not to go to law school. Thank goodness I listened!
Jun 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this years ago, and found it absolutely riveting. I had never heard of this guy before but his impact on the black power movement is indelible.
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Timothy B. Tyson is Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, Visiting Professor of American Christianity and Southern Culture at Duke Divinity School, and adjunct professor of American Studies at the University of North Carolina. He is the author of The Blood of Emmett Till, a New York Times bestseller; Blood Done Sign My Name, a finalist for the National B ...more

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2 likes · 1 comments
“Thurgood Marshall arranged a meeting with agents of the New York office of the FBI "in connection with his efforts to combat communist attempts to infiltrate the NAACP," as the FBI put it. The future U.S. Supreme Court justice informed them that Robert Williams had been suspended from the NAACP "due to his actions in connection with the defense of two Negro children who were sent to a North Carolina Training School for allowing white girls to kiss them." Williams should be investigated, Marshall allegedly told them, because he "will seek to arouse the people in the North Carolina area to take action which could become violent and cause racial unrest and tension." Marshall was, the FBI report stated, "afraid of people agitating on such matters in the South since race tension can be easily aroused, especially during the summer months.” 0 likes
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